If the school lunch thing is getting you down, you’re not the only one. From missing lunch box lids to complaints about brown apples and soggy crackers, it’s enough to make you tear your hair out. So, in the name of easing your lunch box woes, we’ve taken eight of the most common pain points and found their tried and tested solutions. Read on to make the lunch prep easier.
Apples turning brown
While apples turning brown doesn’t actually alter the taste or quality of an apple, I do get how it can be off putting – especially to a fussy eater.
Most people will tell you to squeeze orange or lemon juice over a cut apple to prevent it turning brown but I find this too messy when I am in a rush. Plus, I don’t always have citrus fruit on hand or I don’t want to waste a whole orange just to stop an apple turning brown. And lemon can make the apple taste sour.
I prefer to use the salt water method: I soak the cut apple in a bowl of lightly salted water for five minutes before putting it in the lunchbox. This totally works and you can’t taste any salt on the apple. When I’m putting lunchboxes together, I put the apple in the salt water first and by the time I’ve finished the lunchboxes, the apple is done soaking. I have tried this with pear but I find it didn’t work as well.
Another trick is to use citric acid (like this one here). All you have to do is sprinkle it on the cut surfaces of the apple or soak the apple in a bowl of water and the citric acid.
The variety of apple (and pear) will also affect how brown it will turn. Bravo apples are much slower to brown than other apples, but they are more expensive too. Royal gala apples’ flesh already has a yellowish tinge so it can look brown sooner.
In my experience, the more ripe a banana is, the quicker it will go brown and the darker it will turn. So, I only put really fresh bananas in my kids lunch boxes (but not too green – yuck!). My kids are too young and/or not inclined to eat a banana in its whole form so I have to cut mine. For my eldest (5) I cut the two ends off the banana so that it will fit in her bento style lunch box and make a long slice down the length of the banana skin so that she can easily peel it. For my youngest (2.5) I do the same but I then go on to slice the banana – skin still on – into small circles. I find she is more likely to eat the banana when the banana pieces are sitting vertically in her lunch box so that the cut ends aren’t visible. She loves to take the skin off and won’t eat peeled and chopped banana even when it is prepared fresh.
I tried the salted water method above but the banana went super slimy…ew. So don’t bother trying that.
If you have a bento box with individually sealed (airtight) compartment, make one compartment crackers-only. Any moisture will reduce their crispiness and if you’re using something like the japanese rice crackers, they will go quite sticky. Alternatively, put them in a separate container. Don’t have any more containers? Put them in a zip-lock bag or simply buy a multipack of crackers (the ones that are individually wrapped into snack portions).
I have found that, if jostled enough, even the most tightly sealed bento box will leak yoghurt from its compartment. The best bet is to store the yoghurt in its own separate leak proof container – one that fits in the bento box or is in addition to it. Failing that, simply buy yoghurt in individual serving size packets like mini tubs or squeeze pouches. Or reduce landfill and buy reusable pouches.
Messy to eat foods
Some fruit – like watermelon, mango and and other slippery fruit can be tricky and messy for your little one to eat. I solved that problem by getting some food picks for my kids. They love to use them, it keeps their hands clean and as a bonus it can help them to get any food that gets stuck in the corners of the bento box compartments. For super messy lunches, I also include a wet wipe. I fold one up really small and put it in the small circle compartment of the yumbox or put it in a separate sauce container.
Soggy sandwiches or wraps
There are two things that can cause soggy sandwiches – the fillings or frozen bread. To prevent fillings making your bread soggy, skip the tomato and other really wet ingredients. Also pay attention to the order you layer your ingredients with the wettest items in the very middle (especially sauces) and the drier items being closest to the bread.
If you make your sandwiches ahead of time and keep them in the freezer, while they may defrost in time for lunch, they may also be a bit soggy. To prevent this, put your sandwiches in a container that allows them to breathe a bit so that the condensation can evaporate.
Lost lunch box lids
Before buying a new lunchbox, check that you are getting a brand that you can later buy replacement lids and other parts for if needed. Alternatively, buy a lunch box with an attached lid so that it’s impossible to lose.
While not guaranteed to keep the lunch box lid coming home, you could write your child’s name and your phone number directly on the lid (or use sticker labels) so that if it is found by someone else, it will have a better chance of returning to you.
Print out a photo of the lid, laminate it and then attach it to your child’s lunch bag (using a hole punch and some string perhaps) to remind your child to put it back in the bag.
Lost spoons and forks
Why not use the same laminated picture idea as mentioned above, or you could simply buy a pack of disposable cutlery. Keep using the same one, washing it each time, and then when it gets lost it doesn’t matter so much. Just grab another one from the packet. If you don’t want to go for plastic, why not buy a cheap set of metal cutlery to be used in the same way?
Lost water bottles
Are you going through water bottles at an alarming rate because your kids keep losing them? You could get some disposable water bottles and use them in the same way as the disposable cutlery. You can even write your child’s name on them so that when you go out together, you don’t risk swapping bottles (and germs). Don’t like plastic? Glass juice bottles reused will also work here.
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